What is the theme or moral lesson in John Updike's "A&P"?

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The message of "A&P" comes in the final sentence:"[M]y stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter." In other words, the world is a harsh, unforgiving place, and young people seldom understand this. People cannot act exactly as they like, since all actions have consequences. Again, it is the young who usually fail to understand this.

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One of the themes that emerges in "A&P" is that actions often have unintended consequences.

Queenie and her friends casually enter the grocery store "in nothing but bathing suits." This behavior which lies outside the norms of expected public behavior catches not only the eye of Sammy, the narrator, but...

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his store manager as well. Queenie has not really considered the ramifications of not properly dressing for grocery shopping; when confronted, she deeply blushes. As it turns out, Queenie doesn't mind being the center of attention which flatters her, but she doesn't expect to be reprimanded. In fact, she tries to challenge Lengel's definition of decency, but he doesn't budge. Queenie slinks out, defeated, and has learned a lesson about the consequences of not following expected social norms.

Sammy learns some of the most powerful lessons about consequences. It is clear that he quits his job at least in part to try to impress the girls:

I say "I quit" to Lengel quick enough for them to hear, hoping they'll stop and watch me, their unsuspected hero.

Because the girls infatuated him from the moment they entered the store, Sammy feels some need to defend their sense of honor. He makes a rash decision to quit his job in an effort to win their favor. He fails miserably:

They keep right on going, into the electric eye; the door flies open and they flicker across the lot to their car...leaving me with Lengel and a kink in his eyebrow.

Sammy knows that he's made a mistake, and Lengel tries to talk Sammy out of his decision. But Sammy realizes that it would be "fatal" not to follow through at this point even though Lengel reminds him that his parents are depending on him. Sammy looks for "his" girls in the parking lot when he walks out, but they are gone and he isn't surprised. Thus, Sammy learns that making quick decisions with the intention of impressing people can have defeating consequences.

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A theme of John Updike's short story entitled "A&P" is that of initiation. In this story, Sammy moves from the dreamy, romantic world of a teenager into the complex world that adults inhabit. 

Sammy is mesmerized when three girls walk into the grocery store "in nothing but bathing suits." Because he is sexually intrigued with the girls, he rings up an item twice, and his customer complains loudly. After the customer leaves, Sammy watches the girls, creating romantic ideas about them, even naming one Queenie. In contrast to what Sammy labels the "sheep" who come through the store in hair curlers and house dresses, with broken and varicose veins on their legs (all of which repulse him), these girls elicit romantic and erotic thoughts in Sammy.

It is not long before the manager of the store, Mr. Lengel, confronts the girls; he explains the dress code and company policies to them, adding, "We want you decently dressed when you come in here." Embarrassed by this confrontation, the girls start to leave the store, so Sammy impulsively tells Mr. Lengel, "I quit." As he does so, Sammy watches the girls, hoping they will notice him, "their unsuspected hero," as he calls himself. However, because the girls are in a hurry to get out of the building, they do not hear Sammy when he says,"I quit," and his heroic moment is lost.

Mr. Lengel, who is a friend of Sammy's parents, tells Sammy, "I don't think you know what you are saying . . . Sammy, you don't want to do this to your Mom and Dad." Aware of the truth of this statement, Sammy, nevertheless, removes his apron and bow tie. Lengel argues further, "You'll feel this for the rest of your life." But, because the pretty girl who has blushed at Lengel's scolding has made Sammy feel "so scrunchy inside," he continues his impulsive action.

Once outside, Sammy is initiated into the adult world as he "felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter"; he also realizes too late the truth of Mr. Lengel's words. For in the adult world there are compromises that sometimes must be made. Sammy now knows that he has acted rashly and lost his job for the attention of girls who did not even seem to notice his chivalric act.

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The theme or moral lesson that the author is trying to express in the story A&P by John Updike is that we must be ready to face the music and accept consequences as a result of each and every one of our actions. Therefore, if we want to avoid problems that might follow us for the rest of our lives the best thing to do is to think before we act. Otherwise, there is an effect to every cause.

In the story, the young man chose to stand of for something he momentarily believed in: That his boss was being rude to some pretty girls who entered the establishment in bathing suits-which is inappropriate in the first place. Similarly, the girls made the choice of breaking those rules, so they got yelled at and they probably won't be admitted back in the place.

Meanwhile, Sammy lost his job as a result of his ridiculous attempt as chivalry and, in consequence,  this one incident apparently affected him for long enough for him to have to tell the story and deem it a very "sad" tale.

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What are the major themes in "A&P" by John Updike?

One theme in "A&P" is the struggle for gender equality. Queenie and her friends display at least a mild form of protest by entering a grocery store and disobeying rules about "modest" dress that are required there. Sammy, the story's narrator, is willing to stand up for the girls' right to dress as they choose and still be able to shop there and be respected. Sammy thus supports a feminist cause, and because he does so, he ultimately loses his job. The girls leave without ever acknowledging Sammy's efforts, which demonstrates that not all forms of support are recognized or rewarded. Nevertheless, Sammy follows his sense of moral fairness and realizes how harsh the world really is at the story's conclusion.

Another theme that emerges is the conflict of principles in any society. Sammy criticizes the shoppers who mindlessly follow the metaphorical herd of fellow shoppers through the store like sheep. And he finds himself fascinated with these girls who are willing to live a little more adventurously than the "women with six children and varicose veins mapping their legs" who are typical customers in the store.

Sammy isn't afraid of breaking with traditions, and this places him in direct opposition to the very traditional Lengel. Lengel teaches Sunday School and clearly believes that the appearance of these girls is a threat to the decency of the other shoppers. Legel is the manager and therefore the character with more power, so his is the position that wins in the end. However, there is a sense that Sammy has reached a point of new maturity in his decision and that the conflict has thus further shaped his character.

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What are the major themes in "A&P" by John Updike?

John Updike often wrote about adolescent and young adult male minds (See: Rabbit series). They often act rashly with their sexual urges and drives, pushing them to make unwise decisions. This folly of youth plagues the 19-year-old narrator, Sammy, who decides to be an "unsuspected hero" to three young women wearing their bathing suits into the store where he works.

When these three girls wearing bathing suits walk into Sammy's store, he diverts all of his attention to them, particularly the one in the "plaid green two-piece ... a chunky kid, with a good tan and a sweet broad soft-looking can with those two crescents of white just under it, where the sun never seems to hit, at the top of the backs of her legs." He watches her and the one he calls "Queenie" as they make their way around the store scantily clad. His narration suggests he believes everyone else in the store is watching them the same way, but this is somewhat ambiguous due to the narrator's unreliability. What is for sure though, is that Lengel, the store manager, sees the girls and tells them, "[T]his isn't the beach." Outraged with his boss, Sammy quits.

Ultimately, Sammy's decision proved foolhardy as he walked outside the store and sees no one "but some young married screaming with her children." The girls are gone. Why would they wait for Sammy? He didn't talk to them even as he rang up their groceries. As Sammy stood out in the empty parking lot looking back at his former boss at his former register, this foolhardy decision seems to strike him as his "stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter." This final line does not seem to be referring to the immediate problems of his loss of money, but of something larger, an unstated character flaw he sees in himself.

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What are the major themes in "A&P" by John Updike?

The previous commentators seem to view Sammy in a negative light and come down on the side of society.  I see the story a little differently. 

To me, Sammy is the only character in the story that shows any individuality, and this is not a bad thing.  The idea isn't that you better do as society tells you or there will be consequences--like a warning.  The idea is that social norms are arbitrary and anyone with any brains or individuality has trouble going along with them. The societal norms are shallow and inflexible, and only sheep follow them.    

The individuality Sammy shows is positive, not negative, and the choice he makes a good one, not a bad. 

The future Sammy faces at the end of the story is one of constantly bumping up against asinine social norms.

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What are the major themes in "A&P" by John Updike?

Another major theme of John Updike's short story, "A&P", is that of individual choice and the eventual consequences of the action. Most of the characters in the story have choices to make. Sammy, the cashier who narrates the story, makes the decision to quit his job at the A&P after his boss is rude to a customer. Mr. Lengel, the manager, decides to warn the young female customer about her skimpy attire. The teen, "Queenie," has to decide how to respond after Lengel's warning. Their decisions all have consequences, especially Sammy's, who must now face the rest of the summer (and perhaps longer) without employment and with an uncertain future.

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What are the major themes in "A&P" by John Updike?

In my opinion, the main theme of this short story is individualism.  It is a story about what happens when people try to do "their own thing" rather than doing what society expects them to do.

In this story, the three girls are, to some extent, doing their own thing.  Queenie has gotten them to go to the store in their bathing suits, which was completely unacceptable at the time.  They pay for this by being humiliated by the manager.

Sammy also tries to be an individual.  In his case, he tries to stand up for the girls against his boss.  He, too, pays for his choice by losing his job and having nothing to show for it.

So I think the theme is that in our society, you have to do what is expected or pay the price.

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What is the central theme of the short story, "A&P"?

One of the several themes Updike explores throughout the short story "A&P" concerns individualism. The teenage store clerk, Sammy, asserts his individualism by quitting his job after his manager embarrasses several young girls wearing bathing suits in the store, which is against the company's policy. Unlike the other employees and the store's manager, Sammy refuses to conform to the social norms and code of conduct by challenging Lengel, who represents all the conservative moral and social codes of conduct of the town. Sammy also champions the girls' individuality and supports their willingness to break social norms and dismiss the store's policy. By asserting his individuality, Sammy becomes an outcast and he realizes how hard life will be for him in the future.

Updike also explores the themes of class and sexuality in the story. Sammy astutely notices that Queenie and her friends are from the upper class and are protected from the consequences of their actions. Unlike Queenie, Sammy understands that he and Lengel are from the working class and do not share the same privileges as the girls. They must either conform to the social norms or be labeled as outcasts like Sammy at the end of the story. Sammy is also sexually attracted to Queenie while the conservative code of conduct identifies the girls as indecent and shameful. Queenie's sexuality gives her a sense of power and authority as she and her friends turn the heads of customers. Sammy's desire and attraction to Queenie influence him to quit his job in their defense. However, he unknowingly objectifies them as women who are unable to defend themselves.

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What is the central theme of the short story, "A&P"?

There are several important themes that John Updike explores in his short story, "A&P." One is that of actions and consequences, which affects several of the characters. Sammy's decision to quit his job, knowing that it will be tough for him to find another, is the primary example. But the girls also learn that by coming into the grocery store barefoot and in their bathing suits, they may be scrutinized by others who deem their attire inappropriate. The manager's decision to publicly humiliate the girls also may have repercussions among his regular customers who watch the scene. Another theme is that of individualism. Sammy's seemingly chivalric decision to quit his job--supposedly out of disgust for the manager's behavior, but more in the hope that he will impress the girls--shows a streak of individuality missing in the others present. Although the girls don't even seem to notice, Sammy does take a stand concerning rules of conduct that conflict with Lengel's store rules and societal norms. 

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In the Story "A&P" by John Updike, what is the theme being expressed throughout the story?

          Most discussions of John Updike’s well-know story “A & P” treat the young characters with sympathy. It is natural to do so, since the story is told from the point of view of the young grocery clerk who is immediately attracted to the three adolescent girls who enter in their bathing suits. But Updike, either intentionally or inadvertently, leaves his incident open to an opposite interpretation. The four young people involved—Sammy and the three girls—might be taken to represent the spoiled, self-indulgent young white Americans who take it for granted that the world owes them a living, who may finally be waking up to the fact that life is a constant struggle for existence and that employers aren’t waiting for them with open arms even though many of them can’t spell, can’t write a coherent sentence, can’t say “Thank you,” and don’t really want to work in the first place.

          The three girls enter the market in this conservative small town wearing skimpy bathing suits and walking on bare feet. They are conscious that their behavior is inappropriate. It is only because they are pretty girls that they dare to do what is equivalent to three young men entering barefoot and bare-chested, wearing only khaki shorts. Many restaurants these days have signs in their front windows reading something like: NO SHOES, NO SHIRTS, NO SERVICE. It would seem that such signs should not be necessary—that people should have learned certain minimal rules of civilized behavior.

          The fact that the girls are wearing only bathing suits and that Sammy discards his apron might be intended to symbolize that American youth would like life to be a permanent vacation. A lot are in for a shock—as Sammy seems to realize intuitively when he foresees that the Darwinian-Malthusian world will be a harder place for him from now on.

          Updike’s story should not be read solely as an ode to youth or a defense of the four young characters involved.

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In the Story "A&P" by John Updike, what is the theme being expressed throughout the story?

The main theme that runs through A & P is the idea of choices and consequences. There is also a commentary in the story about freedom and rules.  Sammy works at a supermarket where he views all the people he sees as stupid sheep.  He observes the activity in the store from a sarcastic, mocking tone.  Everyone looks the same to Sammy except when the young girls come in wearing the bathing suits.  

"A few house-slaves in pin curlers even looked around after pushing their carts past to make sure what they had seen was correct." (Updike) 

Sammy is young, 19, and very bored with his job at the store. His interest is peaked, however, when 

"In walks these three girls in nothing but bathing suits. I'm in the third check-out slot, with my back to the door, so I don't see them until they're over by the bread." (Updike)

Sammy is infatuated, immediately with the three girls, particularly one he names Queenie.  Sammy contrasts the three scantily clad girls with the usual shoppers in the store.

Sammy gets so interested in the girls that when the store manager, Lengel scolds them for being improperly dressed to shop, he abruptly announces that he quits.

Sammy's actions are a reaction to the girls being told they were inappropriately dressed for shopping in the store, he does not think about the consequences of his actions.  He is only thinking about being on the side of the three girls who he sees as heroes for exerting their rights as individuals and violating the rules of the store.  He especially likes the fact that the girls shock the regular customers out of their zombie like shopping.  

This story is set in the 1960s, so girls were usually dressed appropriately, even down to white gloves sometimes.  So it is very unexpected to see three girls in bathing suits in the supermarket.  

Sammy links himself with the three rebels and is desperate to get their attention, however, they walk out of the store without giving him a second look.  So as he leaves the store, now jobless, he discovers that he has made his life a lot harder with his impulsive behavior.

Choices, that is what Sammy makes when he quits, have consequences.  Freedom of one individual should not impose on the freedom of another.  The improperly dressed girls violated the rules of the store by shoping in their bathing suits thereby violating the rights of the other shoppers by making them uncomfortable in the environment.

Rebellion is also a theme that is relevant to this story, the girls obviously don't care that they are wearing bathing suits in a store, they are not embarrassed, they don't care.

Sammy's actions at the end of the story are the ultimate rebellion, a take this job and shove it mentality which only feels good when you say it, then you realize that you have no job, no money and big problems. 

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What is the message of "A&P" by John Updike?

At the end of John Updike's "A&P," the narrator, Sammy, looks back at his former supervisor through the windows of the store he has just left and observes:

His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'd just had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

This hardness is the message of the story. Sammy, like the girls who sauntered into the store wearing only their bathing suits, young and carefree. He left his job on a whim, not thinking about how hard it would be to get another one. At the end of the story, his chivalrous optimism is suddenly checked by a reflection that brings home the reality of the situation.

Both Sammy and the girls fail to take life seriously. They see Lengel and the older generation as stuffy and prudish and feel that they can do as they like. When Lengel attempts to impose boundaries on them, they are dismissive and contemptuous. What they fail to see is that the real power is with Lengel. He is a representative, albeit a low-level one, of the people who run the world and control their futures. They will only harm themselves by their acts of rebellion. The message of the story, therefore, is that people cannot do as they please, and all actions have consequences, often harsh ones.

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What would be considered a major theme in the short story "A&P" by John Updike? How is this theme expressed throughout the story?

This is a humorous, yet poignant coming-of-age story.  It is a story of self-discovery, an initiation story where a teen crosses a threshold into manhood--and regrets it.

There are only a few ways a boy can become a man, and most of them deal with rebellion against a same-sex authority figure.  Updike's story is no different: his narrator tries to break away from the conservative materialism of the adult world, only to discover that no one takes notice--and he's left without a job.  Worse, he knows now that fighting against adulthood is a losing cause, morally and financially.

The perfect theme is reflected in the last lines:

I look around for my girls, but they're gone, of course. There wasn't anybody but some young married screaming with her children about some candy they didn't get by the door of a powder-blue Falcon station wagon. Looking back in the big windows, over the bags of peat moss and aluminum lawn furniture stacked on the pavement, I could see Lengel in my place in the slot, checking the sheep through. His face was dark gray and his back stiff, as if he'djust had an injection of iron, and my stomach kind of fell as I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.

The speaker knows he's acted foolishly, idealistically, even romantically.  He thought the world would stop spinning when he quit.  He thought at least he'd get a phone number.  But, alas, he's sabotaged himself--for what?  Girls?  They're gone.  To spite Lengel?  He'll find someone else.  For principles?  What were they, anyway?

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What would be considered a major theme in the short story "A&P" by John Updike? How is this theme expressed throughout the story?

To me, the major theme of this story is individuality.  We see, in this story, how people are treated when they act as individuals.

In both the case of the girls and the case of Sammy, acting as an individual does not do a person much good.

The girls, you can argue, are expressing individuality and rebellion by going to the store in bathing suits.  For doing this, they get scolded and are a bit of a spectacle.

Sammy expresses his individuality by standing up to his boss who is clearly in the right (by the standards of the time).  He gets fired.

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What is the central theme of John Updike's short story "A & P"?

The two primary themes of John Updike's short story "A & P" are those of consequences of choice and individualism. Sammy's teenage lust for the underdressed girls who patronize the A & P store in which he works causes him to make what he considers a chivalric act: He quits his job in protest over his boss' rude behavior toward the girls. Sammy makes his decision on the spur of the moment, not considering that he will no longer have an income; that it will be tough to find another job; and that his parents will be angry for his short-sighted move.

Sammy does show the trait of individualism during the story, objecting to his manager's behavior and choosing to quit rather than being a part of the store's policies. Others do not, however: The manager, Lengel, chooses to tow the company line, intimidating and embarrassing the girls by quoting company policy. The girls fail to defend themselves, quickly leaving the store rather than stand up for their right to dress as they wish.   

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Discuss the themes of the story "A & P" by John Updike.

"A & P" by John Updike was written early in his career.  In an interview, Updike claimed that Sammy was somewhat autobiographical for the author when he was writing the story: 1960s.

The protagonist Sammy serves as the narrator of the story.  This is Sammy's story.  The reader learns that the story is being told as a flashback to an event which has negatively impacted Sammy. Updike uses his story to exemplify to universal themes: generation gaps and choices and their consequences.

Updike uses the events in the story to illustrate the differences in generations.  Sammy represents the new generation that in the not too distant future will support more individual freedom. This freedom will come from the idea that the person should make decisions for himself about what he wears, the type of haircut he chooses, and what he believes about aspects of life.  This is the "dawning of a new day" as the songwriter wrote.  Sammy's stance against Lengel to quit his job demonstrated Sammy's first time to face off against the old standards.

One of the important motifs illuminated is making choices and understanding that their are consequences for them.  Sammy is only nineteen.  His experiences have been limited to his school and work in his small town grocery store. He chooses to quit his job to point up the injustice of the treatment of the girls by Lengel. In fact, his quitting had a duel purpose: to make a statement to Lengel and to impress the girls.  Neither of which occurred.  Lengel thinks Sammy is a foolish young kid, and the girls do not even see or hear Sammy quitting his job. 

To point up this theme again, the girls choose to go into the grocery store dressed inappropriately for the time period.  In brief swimming suits and barefooted, even in today's standards of "No shoes, no shirts, no service," indicates that in public places there is a standard dress code.  In the 1960s, women were still wearing hats, gloves, and dressing up to go to town to shop. Men were wearing suits and ties at work.  The girls' choices had consequences; they were told not to come back to the store dressed indecently:

'That makes no difference,' Lengel tells her, and I could see from the way his eyes went that he hadn't noticed she was wearing a two-piece before. 'We want you decently dressed when you come in here.'

Every choice has an aftereffect.

Lengel choose to embarrass the girls by dressing them down in front of the grocery workers and other customers.  He was already upset about other things.  He certainly could have handled the situation in a less humiliating and threatening way.  Possibly, his actions might stand as a misuse of power.  At any rate, Lengel suffered his consequence when one of his best workers chooses to quit based on Sammy's principles of following  the golden rule.  Lengel espoused to be a Sunday School teacher. His judgment should have pointed him  in the right direction.  Lengel reaped what he sowed. 

The ending of the story finds the main character without a job and with that uneasy feeling of "deer in the headlight" emotions.  Unfortunately, the reader never knows what happens to Sammy and his lost job.

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What is the theme of the short story "A&P"?

Although his treatment of theme may be more humorous than in such classic stories as Joyce's "Araby" and Faulkner's "Barn Burning," John Updike's "A & P" has the theme of Initiation.

Like so many young people, Sammy's focus on reality is myopic and romanticized. He views the customers in the grocery store from the youthful reaction of repulsion for those who have accepted defeat in their lives. For instance, he describes the women as "houseslaves in pin curlers," who push their shopping cart distractedly, unconcerned about the broken and varicose veins that map their legs. So, when the three teen-aged girls enter the store in their two-piece swim suits that reveal their youthful bodies, especially the one whom Sammy calls "Queenie," a pretty girl whose "long white prima donna legs" stand in sharp contrast to the housewives. His romantic remark, "Really, I thought that was so cute" as Queenie reaches into her suit top for her dollar bill reveals Sammy's subjective and hormonal reaction.

Charged by his physical and romantic impulses, Sammy acts rashly in reaction to Mr. Lengel's scolding of the girls. Thus, both his cynicism toward the managerial rules and his idealistic and cavalier attempts to gain the girls' attention drive Sammy to say "I quit." Further, he ignores Lengel's attempt to persuade Sammy not to act in such a rash manner, "You'll feel this for the rest of your life." So, as he stands outside looking back into the store, much like Joyce's protagonist in "Araby," Sammy has the sinking feeling of "how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter." For, Sammy has been initiated into the adult world abruptly with all its complexity and necessity for compromise.

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